Caught (up) in traffic

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Some relief due to the number coding adjustments?

A friend asked me about my commute after the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) had implemented a tweak in the number coding scheme. To those not familiar with the recent adjustments to the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP) or more popularly known as the number coding scheme, the MMDA has recently eliminated the window that was applied to many roads. The 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM window is no more and the MMDA also extended the coding period to 8:00 PM from the old 7:00 PM lifting.

My observation from my personal experience commuting in the mornings between Antipolo and Quezon City is that my travel times have somewhat improved. After Undas, I have enjoyed travel times of 45 minutes to 1 hour during the same morning periods when I choose to travel. This has improved significantly from the 1.5 hours I had spent prior to the adjustment. My usual route was mainly through Marcos Highway so perhaps its not just the coding aspect but also the fact that much of the construction work for the LRT Line 2 Extension have been completed and there have been less obstructions due to this project between Masinag and Santolan. My homebound trips seem to have improved too for the same reasons although not as significant as my morning commute. Another friend has similar observations and is very happy about the big improvements he says he now enjoys considering he has even longer commutes between Antipolo and Manila (Intramuros) or Makati (Gil Puyat).

But generally speaking, is it possible that there are significant positive impacts of the tweak in the number coding scheme? My assessment is that it is very possible and very likely especially if we see it from the perspective of vehicle trip reduction due to the adjustments made in the restraint policy. The number coding scheme is a travel demand management (TDM) measure designed to reduce vehicle traffic through vehicle use restraint. By introducing the coding window many years ago, the restrictions to vehicle travel were in effect relaxed and that encourage more people to use their cars.

The elimination of the coding window means people could not move their times of commute to later than 7:00 AM or earlier than 3:00 PM. It meant people whose vehicles were “coding” had to leave (forced?) early and go home late. Extending the coding period to 8:00 PM probably was probably a back-breaker to many people. And then the difference now compared to the 1990s and decade after that is the availability of the more reliable Uber and Grab vehicles that many car-owners had no option to use before. I’m not a psychologist but perhaps such factors have led to an improvement in traffic conditions. How long this would last shouldn’t be so difficult to tell given the experiences in the past and the fact that population and vehicle ownership continues to rise. Perhaps a year or two if no significant improvements in transport (e.g., mass transit projects) happen.

Starting November 14, the MMDA is also supposed to be clamping down (read: stricter implementation) on the motorcycle lane policy along EDSA, C5, Commonwealth and Macapagal Blvd. I’m not so sure how they will be doing this as enforcement along the stretches will require a lot of manpower.

Candidates for national positions in the Philippines using public transportation

There was a clamour for public officials to take public transportation in order for them to experience what commuters regularly go through when taking public transport. This was especially the challenge to officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) after what seemed to be an endless sequence of breakdowns involving trains in Metro Manila. While some officials and politicians were quick to respond, most if not all were only for photo opportunities (masabi lang na nag-MRT or nag-jeepney or nag-bus). The DOTC Secretary himself also rode the train but with many alalays and was apparently given special treatment judging by the conditions when he rode the train. I remember one senator who was presidential-candidate-to-be at the time fall in line (a very long line at that) at an MRT3 station in Quezon City to experience it herself and declared it was so the experience could help her frame legislation to improve public transport in the country. That was rare and apparently never repeated by the politician despite the praises she received for her doing so without any bodyguards or alalays (assistants).

Some people have been saying that one Vice Presidential candidate is so desperate that she’s taking public transport and having herself photographed doing so. I happen to know for a fact that the said VP hopeful takes public transportation regularly and even from the time when she was not yet congressman. She almost always takes the bus between her hometown in Bicol and Metro Manila. That is not a desperate act but a natural thing for her that few if any of our national officials, elected or appointed, can claim they also practice. This is the VP-candidate in her natural self with no pretensions and no sense of self-entitlement (compared with others who ride their chauffeured vehicles complete with escort vehicles). We need more people like her if we are to address transport and traffic issues cities and the entire country is now facing. These problems hinder development and is something experienced by most people including those who can afford to have their own vehicles for their commutes. We need leaders with first-hand knowledge and experience of how it is to be someone who takes public transport regularly.

Some advantages of rail over road transport

In my previous article, I mentioned how rail transport is important as part of a country’s transport system, particularly on land. I also mentioned a study conducted by our undergraduate students that was completed back in April 2012.

Our students conducted a simple survey, as part of their research, to determine the travel times and costs for public transportation between several origin-destination pairs. These O-D pairs were selected to simulate costs and travel times of commutes using either primarily rail or all road transport. Note the choices of either ‘school’ or ‘office’ paired with ‘home’ somewhere in the south of Metro Manila.

road-rail travel time 2012Travel time comparisons for commutes using road and rail public transportation – ‘Road’ refers to the entire commute using road-based transport (i.e., buses and jeepneys) while ‘Rail’ refers to commutes utilizing mainly the PNR but with road transport used in the end parts of the journeys (e.g., jeepney ride from near the PNR Espana Station to UST).

road-rail cost 2012Travel cost comparisons for commutes using road and rail public transportation

Relevant to understanding the above are the following

  • Fare rates have changed since 2012. However, this presents a constant change over the fares that are being compared so the basic differences will remain the same across origin-destination pairs.
  • PNR services had to be discontinued for some time due to derailments because of poor conditions of tracks.
  • Road traffic has worsened since 2012 with several “carmaggedon” episodes showing how vulnerable commuters are when using solely road transport.
  • Road public transport services are frequent and practically 24/7. PNR services are of very limited frequency. Waiting times for the trains typically add to travel times in the form of delays, which make commuting by rail an unattractive option due to their unreliability of service.

Commuting on the EDSA MRT 3

There’s a lot of buzz these days about the challenge posed to government officials responsible for our transport and traffic in Metro Manila and the rest of the country. I must admit I regularly drive between home and my workplace but I often commute to meetings and will usually leave my car at the office when I don’t feel like driving. While its often perceived as difficult to take public transport, it is really quite easy as long as you plan your trip. That is, familiarize in advance with what jeepneys, buses, UV express or rail lines your going to take. I’m sure there are so many tools available to those with smart phones or internet access but then nothing beats asking for directions from those familiar with the commute.  Following are photos I took en route to a meeting at Bonifacio Global City (BGC) from UP Diliman. I took a jeepney from UP until the EDSA MRT Quezon Avenue Station where I took a train to Ayala Station. From Ayala Station, I walked towards the Fort Bus Terminal at the corner of EDSA and McKinley where I purchased a ticket at the Fort Bus booth beside the Shell gas station.

IMG06439-20130719-1552Passengers queuing at the platform at Quezon Avenue Station – there is some semblance of discipline but not like what we saw in Japan, Singapore or Bangkok where people do step aside for alighting passengers before entering the train.

IMG06440-20130719-1553A crowded platform vs. a congested EDSA – commuting is often perceived as a hassle for many in Metro Manila partly because of crowded public transport and the inefficiencies including poor transfers and low quality of service. Many who could afford to own cars or motorcycles take private vehicles instead.

IMG06441-20130719-1558Passengers on a crowded platform form lines directly in front of the train doors instead of allowing for space for disembarking passengers. While there are markings on the platform to guide passengers where to position with respect to the door, these are not followed and there are no MRT staff to guide people to do so.

IMG06442-20130719-1600Passengers lined up for an arriving train can be too close to the train, risking accidents where a simple nudge from behind could get a passenger killed by an oncoming train.

IMG06443-20130719-1601The photo clearly shows the narrow platform of the EDSA MRT station and the markings to guide people where to position with respect to the train doors. This contributes to the congestion on the platform and perhaps is a reason why people can’t line up properly. I’ve observed many people getting stressed out simply because of the undisciplined mix-up during the unloading/loading process whenever a train arrives at the platform. Note also from the photo the sign on top of the guard post informing people of the segregation being implemented in favor of women, children, PWDs and senior citizens. The latter have some cars reserved for them so they won’t have to wrestle it out with other passengers to get in a train.

IMG06446-20130719-1603A Taft-bound train arrives at the Quezon Ave. Station. On a way to increase the MRT-3’s capacity is to have shorter headways between trains. However, this can’t be done without additional trains.

IMG06447-20130719-1604A train is not full as it leaves Quezon Ave. but more passengers board at subsequent stations at GMA Kamuning and Cubao. The train cars are eventually crowded and I stopped taking photos in case someone fancies my phone or gets offended by my taking photos inside the train.

IMG06454-20130719-1628Escalators at the Ayala Station where the platform is practically underground.

IMG06456-20130719-1630Small shops and stalls at the Ayala Station. There is a direct access to SM Makati, which a lot of people take to also have a more comfortable walk through the malls nearby.

IMG06457-20130719-1630Ayala Station is one of the larger and more developed stations along EDSA-MRT and among the busiest given its location.

IMG06458-20130719-1631Among the shops and stores at the station is a local courier service and a license renewal center of the Land Transportation Office (LTO). These cater to people on the go and quite convenient to commuters.

IMG06459-20130719-1633Direction signs to guide passengers transferring to the Fort Bus of Bonifacio Global City (BGC).

IMG06470-20130719-1924MRT stored value card – these along with the single journey cards may be pruchased at the stations. A stored value card is worth PhP 100 with the last journey assured regardless of the remaining balance in the card. As can be seen, the card has seen better days. However, the long-delayed common ticketing system for rail transit in Metro Manila should be implemented soon (crossing my fingers). Perhaps other ways can be explored like commuter passes for regulars including discounted ones for students and senior citizens. In Japan, for example, one can get such passes for 1 month, 3 months, 6 months or even a year, paid in advance for unlimited trips between one’s “home” station and “work” or “school” station.

I think our government owes it to the more than 80% of travelers who take public transport to improve our transport system. There’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of the quality of service including comfort, convenience and reliability that can be addressed only if we invest in public transport infra and introduce reforms that have long been recommended but not implemented (for many reasons). Let’s take it from Enrique Penalosa, who was mayor of Bogota and a leading proponent of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was quoted as saying “a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transport.”